I have a few habits that I have trouble controlling. Some of them are probably net good (although expensive), such as buying books on Amazon. Some of them however are most definitely bad, such as my habit of using the Juul e-cigeratte (although this is arguably better then my use of regular cigerattes before).
My most pronounced habit is Netflix though. Between having Netflix on one monitor, and mindlessly surfing the internet and checking Twitter on the other monitor, I waste countless hours. I have it on right now as I’m writing this blog entry. Star Trek Voyager barely grabs my attention despite my love of nearly all things trek. That’s a topic I won’t get into here (it’s not terrible).
I’m pretty sure I’m addicted to Netflix and surfing the internet. Or if its not an addiction, it’s a habit. And then I have my book buying “habit” which may or may not be a good thing. I’ve bought a lot of books and I barely have time to even get to all of them. Which is crazy since outside of work I have very few responsibilities. However, instead of working through the books that I habitually buy (I’m getting better at working through them), I reflexively watch Netflix and surf the internet.
I’m beginning to question why I do this so much.
The internet is supposed to be a marvellous technology which enriches our lives. I was in middle school when AOL and dial-up internet started to be used, but I started using computers a few years before. Back then there was no Netflix and Twitter. There wasn’t as much free software available to the average person, and I even paid for Visual C++ and the like at local computer shows to learn how to program once QBasic was a little too basic.
I won’t argue that the internet isn’t great – it is. Besides the “web” part of the internet, the underlying network enables communication and networking amongst businesses and organizations like never before. I’m fairly sure that even working as a software engineer and having been in IT for over ten years, I probably can’t name 5% of all the interesting things that the interent has enabled.
As the internet as grown, and home connection speeds have increased and broadband is taken for granted in most places, the “web” part of the internet has been transformed tremendously from what it was.
For me, it’s grown into the greatest attention grabbing time sink ever.
As I write this post, I’m sitting at the most powerful computer I’ve ever owned, which I spent 2500 dollars on. Instead of using it to its full potential – to say – play a good computer game (which is a far better use of time then watching Netflix), I’m watching Netflix!! I have countless browser tabs open which I can’t even keep track of.
So besides the fact that I could be doing this on a less expensive machine, is this even a problem? Maybe I should just go with the flow and relax.
I don’t think so.
I barely even know why I watch so much Netflix and waste time on Twitter at all anymore.
I’ll start with Twitter.
I signed up for Twitter about seven or eight years ago to follow the news. And by news I mean following actual news sources and using it as a content aggregator. Not news as in some random Twitter user reports something.
Twitter used to be TEXT!!! Short spurts of information that I could look at and click on a link to read an article. Now, everything is an image. And if it’s just text, it’s practically useless. Twitter for all intents and purposes is an exercise in people being clever amongst strangers. Some stuff actually is funny, but on the whole, its nonsense.
With the introduction of the use of emoji in everything, Twitter is basically an assualt on your senses and emotions for the most part.
But it’s addicting. Need to waste some time? I check Twitter. There is at this point a 1 in 25 chance I’ll see something valueable. It used to be higher. I know, I could redo my feed so I see other stuff. I did this already when I unfollowed any politicians on my list (for some reason I thought they might tweet something worthwhile). Twitter sans politics in my opinion is way better then Twitter with politics. Unfortunately this is basically impossible.
So maybe it’s not that bad to spend 30-45 minutes a day (this may be a conservative estimate) wasting time on Twitter. I don’t know.
But I think it is. I’d estimate that for every hour I was browsing Twitter, well – it’s just an hour shot down the tubes. Maybe Twitter was designed purely as a distraction that you can browse while you stand in line waiting for coffee on your phone. It’s probably good for that. Except for the fact that with all of the memes and vidoes stuffed into your feed it’s actually possible to go through gigabytes of data using Twitter. This from a service that used to be limited to 127 characters of text.
So if I don’t mind limiting my Twitter use to when I’m waiting in line for coffee maybe its worthwhile. I can’t think of a more productive use of my time while I’m waiting for coffee.
But why even look at it? I guess at this point it’s a habit. It’s an easy way to get some stimulation. It’s a distraction generator.
Which brings me to Netflix (and streaming video in general).
Netflix is amazing. I won’t lie. Of all of the garbage that is on the internet, Netflix in my opinion is terrific.
There is a lot of great stuff on Netflix and more all the time. My only problem is that I watch it too much. I’ve let its convenience get out of hand to the point where I have it on all the time, and don’t even give the shows the attention they deserve.
My problem with Netflix is my own self control. I don’t want to cut watching any television (if that’s a good term for it) out completely. House of Cards, The Ozarks, Breaking Bad, and other great shows I’ve only watched because I was able to watch them on Netflix. I don’t even watch them once, many, I’ve watched two or three times. Star Trek? I’ve seen it so many times it’s embarrassing.
So my only question with Netflix is why do I habitually put it on all the time? Even when I’m trying to do something like programming or reading I feel like I have to have it on. There’s no question in my mind that when I do this my attention is on neither and the results suffer.
My suspicision is that I do it as a distraction. I’m not sure why. It’s such a habit to have it on that I just do it. Sitting down at the computer? Put Netflix on. Not at the computer? Put it on the Apple TV. It’s always on.
Suspiciously, Netflix apparently doesn’t have an easy way to discover the total number of hours you spent watching it. I bet I watch it at minimum four hours a day on average. So some quick math reveals that four hours a day, at 365 days a year, for I’d guess eight years, means I’ve spent – 11,860 hours watching Netflix. That seems insane but I actually think that is possible. Some of it may be distrubuted amongst other services.
There are 8760 hours in a year. That means I’ve spent over a year streaming video.
That’s insanse. Advertisers must hate Netflix. At least they can’t get to me there (Hint hint NYT and WSJ, I pay for your stuff and you still pummel me with ads).
So even if I assume that my Twitter checking and Netflix watching occurs in parallel, I’ve spent over a year full of time in a distracted, stimulation seeking state. Over 11,000 hours of just being distracted.
When I think about that 10,000 hour rule to master something those 11,000 hours make me cringe a little.
I’m a decent programmer, what could I have built if I spent even 1⁄3 of those 11,000 hours actually building something? A business? What if I spent 11,000 hours figuring out how to start a business and make some money so that I could retire earlier?
Yes, for me, there is a problem.
I won’t even get into imagining how big a problem it is on a larger scale.
So my Netflix habit has taken of a year of my life. Probably over a half of it isn’t even spent watching new material.
So it’s time to cut back. It’s time to limit my Netflix watching.
It’s time to do more reading (fiction and non-fiction) and programming and writing. It’s time to do more producing rather then consuming.
Eight years from now, I’d rather look back and say I spent 11,680 hours of my time working on mastering skills I can use and appreciate than being perpetually distracted by Netflix and Twitter.
So it’s time to limit Twitter to standing in line for coffee. It’s time to cut back drastically on Netflix. I don’t know what a good amount is. Maybe I’ll try to only watch it with other people. At least cut it back to an hour a day.
Anyway, when I read this in 8 years, hopefully the accounting of over 11,000 hours sums up a little differently.